Review: Punishment without Revenge, Arcola

“I may exaggerate beyond all sense and reason”

The third of the Spanish Golden Age plays for me was Punishment without Revenge – El Castigo sin Venganza – another Lope de Vega play but rather than the (not so) comic stylings of green breeches, this is a straight up tragedy and consequently emerges as the strongest of the lot. In the court of the Duke of Ferrara, an illicit passion builds up between the Duke’s bastard son Federico and Cassandra the Duchess of Mantua, the woman he is sent to collect to be a bride for his father. They submit to their urges when the Duke leaves for battle but on his return, the abuse to his honour must be avenged.

William Hoyland is excellent as the vituperative Duke, possessed of a deadly charm with the most vicious edges with some striking speechifying; Nick Barber’s handsome Federico pairs well with Frances McNamee’s Cassandra (a nice casting touch as they also portray lovers in another of the plays) as they pursue their doomed love in spite of the threat it poses to them; and even a lighter side is allowed to shine through the court shenanigans in the form of Simon Scardifield’s manservant and the blustering courtiers of Chris Andrew Mellon and Jim Bywater. Continue reading “Review: Punishment without Revenge, Arcola”

Review: A Lady of Little Sense, Arcola

“She is as thick as potato mash”

The remit of the Spanish Golden Age rep season, a co-production between Arcola Theatre, the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, is to bring to light three rarely performed plays from what they term “the last unopened treasure chest of world drama”. But whilst the academic interest of delving into this cultural period is undoubtable, the quality of the drama uncovered feels variable.

Lope de Vega’s A Lady of Little Sense, or La Dama Boba from 1613, is a romantic comedy whose tales of the arranged marriages of two sisters recalls The Taming of the Shrew. Wealthy businessman Don Octavio has two beautiful daughters to marry off but the educated Nise has an arrogance to match her intelligence and her sister Finea is as dopey as they come – the suitors that come to take their hands thus have to decide the lesser of two evils. Continue reading “Review: A Lady of Little Sense, Arcola”

Review: Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola

“What’s your disguise for?”

The signs were there, I just chose not to see them. The main one being that the author of Don Gil of the Green Breechesor Don Gil de las Calzas Verdes was Tirso de Molina, who also wrote Damned By Despair, otherwise known as one of the biggest car crashes at the National in a goodly while. But I didn’t investigate too much – I allowed myself to be seduced by the notion of an ensemble performing new translations of three neglected plays from the Spanish Golden Age and the murmurings of good reviews from Bath where they opened last year.

But suffice to say that Don Gil did not do it for me. A broad cross-dressing comedy of sledgehammer subtlety, one can identify some similarities with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which preceded this play by about a decade, but what is more notable is the poor comparison that it makes. The plot twists endlessly and mindlessly through a set of baffling contrivances and clearly cognisant of this, Tirso de Molina has one character or another recap just where we’re at at the beginning of what feels like every scene, there’s nothing but exposition and it is still clear as mud. Continue reading “Review: Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola”

Review: Fog, Finborough

“You don’t understand. Once they push you out, you’re in freefall, you’re on your f**king own”

One of the first new plays of 2012 is this jointly written play Fog at the Finborough Theatre in West London. Toby Wharton is an actor – he stars here – and this is his first attempt at writing, but Tash Fairbanks is a comparative old hand, having started up a lesbian feminist theatre company before Wharton was even born. But they have collaborated on this hard-hitting tale of the impact of a deficient care system on a brother and sister.

Fog and Lou were put into care by their father Cannon after the death of their mother as he retreated back to his career in the military, but when he returns 10 years later to try and make amends, he soon sees that the damage his actions caused has no easy solution at all. Getting a new flat means that Fog is able to leave his detested care home and can begin to try and reconnect with his father. But Lou has gone missing and this shattered family is contrasted with Fog’s only real friend Michael and his sister Bernice, black and much more aspirational. Continue reading “Review: Fog, Finborough”

Review: The Syndicate, Minerva

One is constantly learning when going to/reading /writing about theatre, there’s just so much of it to take in! Unknown to me, Eduardo Di Filippo is apparently a giant of Italian theatre but even this, The Syndicate – a version of Il Sindico Del Rione Sanità by Mike Poulton – is receiving its British premiere here, indicating that my ignorance is perhaps a little forgivable. Playing at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, it boasts a healthy cast of 20 headed by Sir Ian McKellen, on a break from filming The Hobbit.

McKellen plays Antonio Barracano, a man smuggled to New York by the local Godfather after murdering a man in his native Naples. After many years accumulating wealth and reputation by working for the mob there, he returns to his hometown as a man of standing amongst the criminal classes who look to him to dispense his own individual brand of justice and one particular case, intervene in a vicious dispute between a son and his father, the son’s murderous urges reminding Don Antonio of his own youthful indiscretion. Continue reading “Review: The Syndicate, Minerva”

Review: Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is the latest film adaptation to hit London’s West End, taking up residence in the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Not having seen the film, I had to be informed that this adaptation is actually much closer to the original Truman Capote novella than the Hollywood version, so namely there is much less coyness about how the leads make their money and the timeframe is restored back to 1943. A young writer, Fred, makes his way to New York City where he meets Holly Golightly “a charming, vivacious and utterly elusive good-time girl” who lives in his building and we follow their developing relationship for a year, in the shadow of World War II and her need for a rich sugar daddy.

Events did not start off well by the first main scene seriously evoking the recent corpse of Too Close To The Sun with some pointlessly fast revolving sets, followed by a metal lampshade that lost control and clanged endlessly against a bit of the set, and then by a cringeworthy dance routine which left most of my party helpless with the giggles. This triple threat should have warned us to leave then and there: the evening did not get any better. Continue reading “Review: Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Theatre Royal Haymarket”